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Ambient 1: Music for Airports

Ambient 1: Music for Airports is the sixth studio album by English musician Brian Eno, released in 1978 by Polydor Records. The album consists of four compositions created by layering tape loops of differing lengths, and was designed to be continuously looped as a sound installation, with the intent of defusing the tense, anxious atmosphere of an airport terminal.

Music for Airports was the first of four albums released in Eno's Ambient series, a term which he coined to describe music "as ignorable as it is interesting" that would "induce calm and a space to think." Although it is not the earliest entry in the genre, it was the first album ever to be explicitly created under the label "ambient music".

Background and concept

By the mid 1970s, Eno had begun to move beyond pop and glam rock stylings towards more quiet and unobtrusive music, as seen on the 1975 releases Evening Star (a collaboration with guitarist Robert Fripp) and Discreet Music. In the following year, Eno produced The Pavilion of Dreams by minimalist composer Harold Budd which also explored the genre.

After spending several hours waiting for a flight at Germany's Cologne Bonn Airport and becoming annoyed by its uninspired atmosphere, Eno conceived of an album of music "designed for airports". The music was designed to be continuously looped as a sound installation, with the intent of defusing the tense, anxious atmosphere of an airport terminal by avoiding the derivative and familiar elements of typical "canned music". To achieve this, Eno sought to create music that would "accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." Rather than brightening and regularizing the atmosphere of an environment as typical background music does, Music for Airports is "intended to induce calm and a space to think."

Music for Airports is the first instalment of Eno's Ambient series of albums of ambient music, conceived with the intent to "produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres."

Recording

All tracks were composed by Eno except "1/1", which was co-composed by Eno with former Soft Machine drummer and vocalist Robert Wyatt and with producer Rhett Davies.

Music for Airports employs the phasing of tape loops of different lengths. For example, in "1/1", a single piano melody is repeated and at different times other instruments will fade in and out to create a complex, evolving pattern as the sounds fall in and out of sync with each other.

Talking about the first piece, Eno has said:"2/1" and "1/2" each contain four tracks of wordless vocals which loop back on themselves and constantly interact with each other in new ways. Subtle changes in timing occur, adding to the timbre of the pieces. Eno explains of the vocal-only piece:"2/2" was performed with an ARP 2600 synthesizer.

Release



Critical reception



In a 1979 review for Rolling Stone, Michael Bloom found Ambient 1 self-indulgent and lacking focus. "There's a good deal of high craftsmanship here," Bloom said. "But to find it, you've got to thwart the music's intent by concentrating." In another contemporary review for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau wrote that "these four swatches of modestly 'ambient' minimalism have real charms as general-purpose calmatives. But I must also report that they've fared unevenly against specific backgrounds." In a 1979 interview with Eno for Musician, critic Lester Bangs described Ambient 1 as having "a crystalline, sun-light-through-windowpane quality that makes it somewhat mesmerising even as you half-listen to it," and recounted a personal experience in which the album induced him into a dream state featuring Charles Mingus.

PopMatters journalist John Davidson was enthusiastic in a retrospective review, deeming Ambient 1 a masterpiece whose value "can only be appreciated by listening to it in a variety of moods and settings. Then you are likely struck by how the music allows your mind the space to breathe", Davidson wrote, "and in doing so, adapts itself to your mood". AllMusic stated that "like a fine painting, these evolving soundscapes don't require constant involvement on the part of the listener [...] yet the music also rewards close attention with a sonic richness absent in standard types of background or easy listening music." Slant Magazine described the effect of the compositions as "sheer weightlessness." Q described it as "soothing and sublime, a useful album when you're feeling particularly delicate." In a positive review, Pitchfork wrote that the album "gives the listener nothing to hold onto, remaining as transitory as its location", and added that it "realizes music's capacity to unify contrasting conceptions of time."

Ambient 1 was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Chuck Eddy from Spin later named it the fourth most essential ambient album, and J. D. Considine wrote in The Rolling Stone Album Guide that the record defined the ambient aesthetic while providing a name for the genre. In September 2016, Pitchfork named the record the best ambient album of all time.

Installation

The album was installed at the Marine Air Terminal of New York's LaGuardia Airport in mid-1980.

Track listing

The track labelling refers to the album's first release (1978) as an LP, and so the first track means "first track, first side", and so on. The CD pressing adds 30 seconds of silence after every song, including "2/2".

The album's back cover features four abstract graphic notation images, one for each track.

Personnel

  • Brian Eno – synthesizer, electric piano, vocals
  • Christa Fast – vocals ("2/1", "1/2")
  • Christine Gomez – vocals ("2/1", "1/2")
  • Inge Zeininger – vocals ("2/1", "1/2")
  • Robert Wyatt – acoustic piano ("1/1", "1/2")

    ;Recording
  • Brian Eno – producer, engineer
  • Dave Hutchins – engineer ("2/1", "1/2")
  • Conny Plank – engineer ("2/2"),
  • Rhett Davies – engineer ("1/1")

    ;Design
  • Brian Eno – cover art

    ;Recording Location
  • London ("1/1", "1/2", "2/1")
  • Plank's Studio, Cologne ("2/2")

    Release history

    Certifications

    In a 2001 interview, Eno claimed that the album had sold 250,000 copies in its first 20 years.

    Usage

  • Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan is a 1981, 47-minute ambient video created by Eno which uses music from both the albums Ambient 4: On Land and this album. This title was later included with his Thursday Afternoon video on the Rykodisc DVD compilation 14 Video Paintings.
  • Music from the album has been covered by:
  • Bang on a Can, both on Music For Airports (1998) and Music For Airports (Live) (2008)
  • Makyo — "2/1 (Night Flight Mix)", on the double compilation CD Minimalism: More Or Less, 1998, Law & Auder (LA05CD)
  • Arrangements of the album performed by the Bang On A Can All-Stars were made into a video filmed and edited by Frank Scheffer, entitled Music For Airports / In The Ocean
  • The first track is used in the PBS special The Creation of the Universe. Eno is the sole music credit, and he also wrote original music for the documentary.
  • "1/1" is frequently used as background music on the US public radio program This American Life.
  • "1/1" is used as background music in the 1986 film 9½ Weeks.
  • "1/1" features prominently in the opening scene of the 2009 motion picture The Lovely Bones.
  • Excerpts of Ambient 1 appear in Robert Hughes' documentary on Modern Art The Shock of the New, episode 4 Trouble in Utopia.
  • Prior to the first hosted live broadcast of Apple's Beats 1 internet radio station, music from the album was played on the service's audio stream.